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Man pleads not guilty to charges in fatal Hernando police chase

BROOKSVILLE — Michael James Anthony — charged in Pasco County with felony murder in a chase that killed a Hernando County deputy — pleaded not guilty to separate charges of attempted felony murder and attempted second-degree murder Tuesday morning in Hernando.

During the chase early July 3, authorities say, Anthony rammed Hernando Sgt. Brandon Ross, forcing him to crash into a pickup and a power pole in Masaryktown and causing minor injuries. That act, prosecutors determined, warranted the attempted murder charges.

Though it's common for the State Attorney's Office to list multiple murder counts related to the same incident, a defendant can't be convicted of both.

Soon after Ross crashed, Deputy John Mecklenburg, 35, lost control of his cruiser and struck a tree along U.S. 41 in Pasco. Mecklenburg, a husband and father of two young children, was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and died there at 9:21 a.m. after receiving three blood transfusions.

Anthony, of Silver Springs in Marion County, on Tuesday waived his right to a speedy trial. Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Jr. set the defendant's next pretrial hearing for Oct. 28. In the Hernando courtroom, the 35-year-old looked haggard. Wearing a red jumpsuit to indicate he's a maximum-security inmate, Anthony's red hair was disheveled, he had dark circles under his eyes and his face was covered in a short stubble.

Though authorities have not said why, Anthony spent several days in a hospital after his arrest in Pinellas County. Investigators are still waiting for his toxicology report, which would indicate if he was drunk or on drugs during the pursuit.

Last month, the Sheriff's Office released a video showing roughly four minutes of the chase.

It was shot just after 4 a.m. from the dashboard camera of Brooksville police Sgt. Ed Serrano.

As Serrano neared the intersection of E Jefferson Street and U.S. 41 near downtown Brooksville, Anthony drove through a red light going the wrong direction. Serrano spun his car around and chased after him.

Anthony, who never appeared to drive more than about 40 to 50 mph, soon began veering between lanes and nearly clipped a line of divider poles in the road. Near the video's end, Anthony came within feet of slamming head-on into two oncoming cars.

After leaving Hernando, investigators say, Anthony continued south through Pasco and Hillsborough counties and into Pinellas until he was arrested on Fourth Street N, near Interstate 275 at 5:09 a.m.

A government worker who monitors traffic cameras in Pinellas also saw Anthony's car driving the wrong way on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@sptimes.com.

Man pleads not guilty to charges in fatal Hernando police chase 08/02/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 8:19pm]
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